A year after the murder of George Floyd, many people are continuing to process the grief, pain, horror of a life taken before our eyes. For those in the BIPOC community, this grief and pain is amplified by the ongoing mental health effects of racial trauma.
Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating mental conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders, mental health experts say. Given how rampant racism is, it is nearly impossible for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to avoid some level of racial trauma. (source: healthline.com).
In order to better understand racial trauma, we must first understand what it is. “The more that we identify it and call it what it is, the easier it is for us to deal with it and to manage it,” says April Preston, a psychotherapist based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Trauma refers to an emotional response to an upsetting event, like a natural disaster or violent crime. Racial trauma is a reaction to experiences of racism, including violence or humiliation. You might also hear it referred to as race-based trauma or race-based traumatic stress.
Know the Symptoms
Racial trauma manifests in some of the same ways as other forms of trauma. People who experience race-based trauma may experience: hypervigilance, increased depressive symptoms, prolonged anger and outbursts, recurring thoughts of the events, as well as physical reactions like headaches, chest pains, and insomnia.
Physiologically, your body responds to racism as chronic stress, which in turn can lead to a number of health issues,” says Will Ming Liu, professor of counseling psychology at the University of Maryland. “For BIPOC individuals, this has been a lifelong experience of retraumatization. It’s always something that they’ve learned to cope with and built up over time.” (source: cnbc.com)
After recognizing that racial trauma may be affecting your mental, emotional, and physical well-being, it’s important to know that there are many things you can do to cope and move through some of the pain. Here are a few things that you may find helpful:
Practice self-care. Prioritize eating nutritious foods and getting enough rest. Be gentle with yourself and check in with how you’re feeling day by day. You may need different types of foods or different amounts of sleep depending on your stress and anxiety levels.
Spend time engaging in hobbies that bring you joy. Whether it’s reading a book, doing an art project, or going for a hike, find a few go-to activities that help you feel calm, relaxed, and rejuvenated.
Set boundaries around consuming social media and news. While we all want to be informed, the 24-hour news cycle can simply be too much, particularly if you repeatedly viewing violent or upsetting imagery. Schedule certain times of the day to read or watch the news and then engage in the hobbies that bring your joy, or people who help comfort you. Be sure to turn off notifications on your devices when you need a news break.
Explore activism opportunities by connecting with others in your community. Connecting with people who have similar experiences to your own can be incredibly healing. Engaging in activism in your community can help make a positive difference in the continued fight for social justice.
Seeking Professional Help
Racial trauma can take a toll on your quality of life, so finding professional support can be a key to your emotional and mental wellbeing. Here are some helpful resources to help get you started as you seek professional mental health counseling (source: healthline.com):
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Therapy for Black Girls
- Therapy for Black Men
- Therapy for Muslims
- Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian American (APISAA) Therapist Directory
- Therapy for Latinx
- Inclusive Therapists (featuring culturally responsive, social justice-oriented therapists)
Additional Readings and Resources:
- How Racial Trauma Affects Your Mental Health, and Tips for Coping as We Return to ‘Normal’ (via cnbc.com)
- My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
- Racial Trauma is Real. Here Are Tips for How to Manage It (via nbcchicago.com)
- The Compounding Effects Of Racial Trauma, A Year After George Floyd’s Murder (via npr.org)